From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 11 – The complications that arise when we tell the truth, and a look at some exceptional situations where we could lie
Rahab (the harlot) lived in Jericho at the time when the Israelites were leaving the wilderness and entering into the land of Canaan to take possession of it. Their leader, Joshua, sent two spies ahead to the city of Jericho, to do reconnaissance and bring back information. Rahab was not an Israelite. She was a Canaanite.
But she knew that God was going to destroy Jericho and give the land to His people, the Israelites. So she chose to cooperate with God. She therefore sheltered the two spies in her house and told a lie to the men of Jericho (Canaanites) who were searching for them. She said they had left earlier, which was not true:
1Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho ” So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. 2It was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” 4But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5“It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 6But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. 7So the men pursued them on the road to the Jordan to the fords; and as soon as those who were pursuing them had gone out, they shut the gate.Joshua 2:1-7 (NASB)
Rahab’s motives for telling that lie are set out later in Joshua chapter two:
8Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, 9and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. 10“For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11“When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. 12“Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, 13and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14So the men said to her, “Our life for yours if you do not tell this business of ours; and it shall come about when the LORD gives us the land that we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.” 15Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall.Joshua 2:8-14 (NASB)
So, a promise was made to Rahab that in return for her help (the lie she told) and for continuing to keep the secret, the invading Israelite army would not harm Rahab or her family,. They agreed not to attack anybody within Rahab’s house. She was told to hang out a scarlet cord to identify where she and her relatives lived.
But note what God then does and how He deals with Rahab. Far from punishing her, He rewards and protects her when the city is destroyed. God told Joshua to march around the city walls for seven days, at the end of which God promised to cause the walls of the city to collapse:
4“Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5“It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.”Joshua 6:4-5 (NASB)
The Israelites did as God said and He knocked down the entire walls of the city, except for one short stretch of wall in which Rahab’s house was built. People used to have houses actually on and within the city walls.
15Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall, so that she was living on the wall.Joshua 2:15 (NASB)
22Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the harlot’s house and bring the woman and all she has out of there, as you have sworn to her.” 23So the young men who were spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and her mother and her brothers and all she had; they also brought out all her relatives and placed them outside the camp of Israel. 24They burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold, and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. 25However, Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day, for she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.Joshua 6:22-25 (NASB)
The old city wall of Jericho is completely destroyed, right down to the base, for its entire length, except for one small section where part of the lower section of the wall still remains. That was where Rahab lived. The point is that it was God who destroyed that wall and it was God who preserved the part of the wall which Rahab lived in.
But why would God do that to reward a woman even though she had told a lie? Indeed, we have to go further than that and face the fact that He was rewarding her because she had told a lie to protect the Israelite spies. It doesn’t even end there. Look at what is then said in chapter 11 of the letter to the Hebrews. It lists a ‘hall of fame’ of individuals whose faith was very great and who did exceptional things for God. Guess who’s in there – it’s Rahab:
30By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.Hebrews11:30-31 (NASB)
So, not only did God reward Rahab, He even praises her actions in Hebrews Chapter 11 and describes her behaviour as ‘faith’. What’s the explanation? It is that Rahab faced a situation of war where God’s chosen people the Israelites, were in great need and two of Joshua’s best men, the spies, were in mortal danger. If they had been caught by the search party they would have been killed. Plus, they wouldn’t have been able to bring the information back to Joshua. So, it was a life or death situation for them. And, on top of that, it involved the protection of God’s chosen people.
In that very narrow and highly unusual context, what Rahab said and did was right. Indeed it was noble and brave. So, again we can say that there are some extremely exceptional circumstances where to tell a direct lie is right. But we must always remember how very rare such circumstances are. So far, in my own life, I don’t think I have ever come across any such circumstances.